Kenya Martin on the Importance of Storytelling

Kenya Martin used to work as an abortion counselor in Texas and now she’s the Communications Program Coordinator for We Testify, a program of the National Network of Abortion Funds. She chatted with LPJL about her personal abortion story sharing experience and why she advocates for abortion.

On telling her own story to Team LPJL at the Abortion Care Network Conference:

That’s when I started to realize, “Oh, I’m just a storyteller. I don’t even know these people and I just told them my whole abortion story.”

It’s just amazing how your life comes full circle.

I worked at an abortion clinic where I’d received services the month before. I became very ill while I was in the office. I started experiencing the most excruciating pain. They did an ultrasound and they sent me to the emergency room, because they felt like one of my fallopian tubes was threatening to rupture.

So I went to the hospital and discovered I had an ectopic pregnancy. I had ruptured one of my fallopian tubes and I was bleeding internally. I had to have emergency surgery. So after all that happened I was just like, “Oh my goodness! My abortion clinic saved my life!” This is the place that I’ve gone to before for services and they saved me again.

And I wanted to do more. I went to my follow-up appointment two weeks later and I asked, “Are you guys hiring?” The doctor who owns the clinic  actually delivered my daughter 18 years ago and he’s done my abortions. His wife is the nurse practitioner so I was seeing her. I’ve always admired them. I’ve loved them like my family and I wanted to work for them. I expressed it that day and she was like, “Well just go to the clinic and see. I’m sure they could find something for you to do.”  And sure enough they hired me.

I wanted to be able to provide the same kind of compassionate care that I received. That’s why I say it’s just amazing how your life comes full circle and something that seems so terrible at the time can happen in your life and it leads you to what your true purpose is. And I’ve been searching for it for a long time. I’ve always felt like I’m supposed to be doing something else; so much more.

My life was spared so I can tell my truth and help people.  

At my first Abortion Care Network Conference, meeting people like LPJL & We Testify and sharing my story with everybody I was like, Wow how am I here right now? How is all of this happening? It’s all making sense! Every abortion that I had was for me to get to this day where I can help other people not feel shameful about what they’re going through.  And we don’t have to be hush hush about doing what was best for our lives.

I am honored to be able to do this work and finally make sense of my life after everything that had happened.

On Why Storytelling is So Important to Her, Now More Than Ever:

The most important thing to share when telling your story is just your personal truth. No two stories are the same. They’re not synonymous. They don’t always intertwine. But what is the same is that it was an abortion. You did what you knew was best at the time.  

Right now we need to dispel some of the myths and make abortion more relatable. Pairing an actual person with the story, connecting a real person with the procedure or the medication abortion process, whichever option they chose, having someone actually say “This is why I made this choice”.

Especially right now with what’s going on with the bills [in New York and Virginia] about later abortion…. What I’m seeing on social media are people being really ugly about it. I mean saying really nasty things and demoralizing people. It shows that people don’t actually understand later abortion. Hearing the story from someone who actually experienced it is most valuable. We don’t need the politicians to tell our stories. We don’t really need third parties to tell our stories. We need to hear the story from the person that actually experienced it.

I started talking about my abortion during my time working in the abortion clinic providing pre-procedural, informed consent counseling. That’s explaining the abortion process and their options, like the medication abortion option versus the surgical procedure option, and answering questions so they could make the best decision for themselves. Most importantly, I made sure that an abortion was a choice they were making solely on their own, free of coercion. Informed consent counseling involves logistical paperwork. It explains what is required by law for the clinic to tell the patient, explaining, especially in Texas, that what the law requires isn’t fact-based, but legally you have to read them the required language.

I would notice how distraught they were about even being in the clinic and having to consider an abortion. They would be so torn up, blaming and judging themselves very harshly. I started telling them, “You are human just like I am. I sat on the other side of that table, just the same as you. I have had abortions. I was doing what was best for my life and you are doing what’s best for you. If there wasn’t a need for abortion clinics they would not exist. You have to trust that you’re making the best decision for you and that’s it. And if this is not something that you can live with, then don’t do it. But if this is something that you know is gonna be good for you, your family, your life as a whole, then this what you should focus basing your decision on.”

And then I would share my situation and what led me to my abortion. I would see the tone of the conversation would change. Their body language would change. They would feel relieved that they weren’t alone. Because they’d never been in contact with somebody who told them, “I had an abortion too.”

On Multiple Abortion Stigma:

A lot of people really carry this deep-rooted shame for having to go to an abortion clinic more than once. When really you’re just taking care of yourself. You are going back to a clinic [where] you received really good services, that gave you really good care, that helped you talk through things, supported you in doing what’s best for you. It’s not necessary to be ashamed about that.

They would be beating themselves up like, I cannot believe I’m here again. I can’t believe I let myself get in this situation. I should know better, having a lot of negative self-talk. So then I would say, “Look, I have had to sit on the other side of that table more than once myself. Life happens. Life will continue to happen. You’ve gone to the dentist more than once. You’ve probably had more than one cavity. You took care of it. It’s no different. If you don’t want to do this more than once you don’t have to. But if you do, you are making the best option for your life and there’s no shame in that.”

I saw that sharing that story was helpful with changing multiple abortion stigma. Because it is a real stigma. I know so many people who will not talk about it, who will never say they did it more than once. You have people who aren’t even comfortable saying they did it once, so they’re really uncomfortable saying they did it more than once. It’s been really helpful sharing with people that multiple abortion stories do exist. It’s real, and not uncommon. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking services more than once.

Because had I carried each pregnancy to term, I would still be judged. If I have six abortions, I’m a single black woman who’s irresponsible. So either way I’m gonna be talked about. So, let’s just call it what it is: I did what was best for me. The person who chooses to have six children did what was best for them. I would share that the doctor told me it’s a safe medical procedure. You can have as many abortions as you need to. And then some people come back and say, “But using abortion for birth control.” But I mean, it is. So what!?! If this is what I choose to use as my form of birth control then that’s my choice. But let’s shut that down right there. We can’t let others define a conversation so that it puts us in a defensive position for doing what is best for our lives.

I also felt it important to ask people what would you do if you called the clinic for services and we were no longer open? How would it make you feel about not having abortion as an option and having someone make that choice for you by taking your right away? I would then say, “Be glad that we’re still open. Be glad that when you call that phone someone answered.” This is why it’s important to remove the shame and start talking about it openly. This is the way we take back our power and normalize it. This is how we are going to help keep clinics open.

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